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10 Experts Talk Library Positivity
by
Posted On November 6, 2018
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[This Spotlight originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of Information Today as “Library Positivity.”]

At the end of every year, Infor­mation Today looks ahead: What will info pros be talking about in the future? How will the informa­tion industry change? This year, like any, has seen its share of challenges—such as the threat of federal budget cuts (which has been tempered somewhat), the fight for Net Neutrality (now cen­tered on California), the spread of fake news (ongoing and inescap­able), failures to protect online privacy (especially by social me­dia companies), and having to continually defend libraries’ val­ue (that infamous Forbes piece advocating replacing libraries with Amazon bookstores is men­tioned several times in this article)— but there’s a lot to stay positive about these days too. Join a group of librar­ians and library-related organiza­tions and companies in celebrating the best parts of being involved with libraries. (Responses have been ed­ited for style and clarity.)


Jenny Arch

Jenny Archinformation services and children’s services librarian at Winchester Public Library in Massachusetts (jenny-arch.com)

What’s something that has re-energized you or kept you excited about librarians/libraries in the past year?

Starting at a new library and branching out into children’s services have helped to keep things fresh and interesting. I was also fortunate to be able to participate in a number of professional development activities, including the Public Library Association conference in Philadelphia in March and the Massachusetts Library Association conference in May. Conferences are excellent for showcasing new ideas, big and small—there’s always something to bring back and share with co-workers. Certainly, social justice is an important theme lately in the library world, and people are questioning the idea that libraries are “neutral,” acknowledging that we stand for the things enshrined in the ALA Code of Ethics. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement has also been an important reminder to make our readers’ advisory, programs, and collections as diverse and inclusive as possible.

How do you see librarianship/libraries evolving in the next few years?

Libraries and librarians are constantly evolving to keep up with—if not ahead of—the times, serving their communities in the most necessary and creative ways, including collections, displays, and programs. Some libraries are moving into the civics sphere, like Skokie Public Library’s Civic Lab (skokielibrary.info/resources/civic-lab), focusing on civil discourse around local issues. Other libraries partner with community organizations to host programs or put up displays on a whole range of topics—early literacy initiatives, voter information, English-language learning, citizenship, and more. And we’re doing fun stuff too, of course—I see YA librarians at the forefront of programs around fandom (Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc.) and escape rooms, as well as more practical (but also fun) programs around life skills. Basically, we’re doing everything to meet communities’ needs and be helpful, vibrant, informative spaces that are open to all.

What makes you feel hopeful about the future of libraries?

Libraries and library staffers are dynamic and alert to community needs and wants. As Caitlin Moran wrote, libraries “are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead.” I think people do recognize the value of libraries—as we saw from the backlash after the misinformed op-ed in Forbes this summer. At every library I visit, every conference I attend, and in every article and blog post about libraries and librarianship, I see energy and ideas, openness and enthusiasm, a willingness to learn and (in most cases) willingness to admit to and learn from mistakes. Libraries—almost alone among public institutions—still enjoy a high degree of social trust, and in many places, library staffers are capitalizing on that trust to make the library a safe space, bringing in community partners and reaching out to those who may not have been typical library users.


John Chrastka

John Chrastkaexecutive director of EveryLibrary (everylibrary.org)

What’s something that has re-energized you or kept you excited about librarians/libraries in the past year?

EveryLibrary’s work is thrilling all year long. We’re lucky to have 14 libraries on the ballot in November 2018, and we are already working with library leaders on planning their referenda and bonds for as far out as 2021 and 2022. The opportunity to learn about a town and the relationship that the librarians and board have with their community—and to figure out with them what the right way is to support a good, engaged, and ultimately effective conversation about the future of their library funding—gets me up and out every day. More and more I realize that there isn’t a toolkit for anything library-advocacy-related. It’s all about what is right for that library in that place.

How do you see librarianship/libraries evolving in the next few years?

The folks who are embracing for themselves a visible and engaged brand of “librarian” are the ones who will be most successful when asking for new funding because they not only have better (i.e., broader) relationships, there is also an awareness of who they are among the general public. And people who don’t use the library, but who believe in it, want to see that person (the librarian) doing things they believe in. I think the profession needs to continue to challenge itself to not only get from behind the desk to talk to patrons, but to leave the building to talk to funders and other humans who care about the same people you both serve.

What makes you feel hopeful about the future of libraries?

I think that when the public, voters, and funders are engaged by librarians with a legitimate and direct answer to their sometimes painful questions—such as “Why do we need libraries when everything is on the internet?” and “Who uses libraries anymore, anyway?”—there is dramatic new understanding of why those members of the public, the taxpayers, should pay for the library and the people who work there. We’ve seen it in nearly 100 election days across the country. Every time we go to a small town or a big city to train and support their team in making a clear answer to those key questions, I’m sincerely hopeful.


Loida Garcia-Febo

Loida Garcia-FeboALA president 2018–2019 (loidaalapresident.com)

What’s something that has re-energized you or kept you excited about librarians/libraries in the past year?

Library workers are taking time to know more about the communities they serve. It is very inspiring to see how libraries now are lending baking pans; tools, including demolition hammers; fishing poles; and paintings to decorate homes and providing connection for people to charge their cars. It is an amazing way of meeting the needs of the community.

How do you see librarianship/libraries evolving in the next few years?

One aspect that I am very excited about is the expansion of services for those accessing information online. For instance, Harris County Public Library’s iKnow library card (hcpl.net/iknow) allows users to access a myriad of resources online. This service from a public library is heavily used by college students in the area as well. I see more of those services, including an increase in platforms to download ebooks (like the fabulous app from OverDrive, Libby; meet.libbyapp.com), audiobooks, periodicals, magazines, videos, and music and programs to learn languages.

What makes you feel hopeful about the future of libraries?

The renewed love for the communities we serve at academic, public, school, and specialized libraries. I’ve been visiting libraries around the country, and I can feel a genuine interest in providing access to information to absolutely everyone in our communities. The diversity, inclusiveness, and intersectionality spirit is very much alive, and librarians have embraced it.


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Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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